Natalie van Rooyen has been around wine her entire life. As a child, her parents sold wine to the shebeens in nearby townships, eventually exporting it to Europe. By the time she was ready to pick a career, there was no doubt in her mind. Forget that viticulture is largely a male-dominated industry, what Natalie did is exactly what she always dreamed of doing: made delicious wine.
First a white winemaker, then a Cellar Master, Natalie is now a director at Overhex and has been part of the incredible resurgence of South African wines. We had a chance to catch up with Natalie to ask her about her inspiration and life as a wino in South Africa.
Natalie, can you give us a brief history of your involvement in the wine industry?
I have been in the wine industry for about 12 years, but I started out helping my parents with their wine company. They used to service the Shebeen’s (informal bars in townships) and then moved on to exporting wines to Europe. I studied at Overhex Wines doing my compulsory vintage as part of my degree. After I graduated they offered me a permanent position as white wine winemaker. Four years later I was promoted to Cellar Master, and in 2013 I became a Director of the company. I also serve on the technical committee of Breeriver Bottling Company. I am currently doing my Certificate Wine course though the Cape Wine Academy and will hopefully begin my Cape Wine Master in the next 2 years.
When did you decide you wanted to make wine?
Wine has always had a part in my family’s life, my parents were in the industry and we all love it. I took a gap year before studying and fell in love with the idea of making wine while working at a cellar in Stellenbosch.
What did your family think of your decision?
They were very supportive even though it is considered to be a very male dominated industry.
What inspires your wine making efforts?
Knowing that a winemaker only has about 35 – 40 vintages in their lives, so I only have a limited number of chances to get it right. Each vintage brings its own challenges, it is how you embrace these conditions that defines you as a winemaker.
What inspires you to make each vintage better than the last?
One can’t become complacent, trying new things keeps life interesting.
What is the biggest risk you have taken in winemaking?
Playing around with natural fermentation.
What has been your biggest risk in life?
Marrying the red winemaker of Overhex, who knew that mixing work and pleasure could work?!
When is your favorite time to drink wine?
Normally in the evenings, barefoot in front of the stove cooking for my family. But then again, when is it not a good time?
What changes have you seen in the South African Wine industry in the past 10 years?
There has been a movement towards building South Africa as a brand rather than just focusing on cellars as individuals. The younger winemakers – due to extensive winemaking opportunities abroad and knowledge sharing – are producing exciting new wines. Focus is also on trying to promote varieties such as Chenin Blanc that South Africa is known for.
What do you do in your free time?
Spend as much time with my family as possible, potting around in the garden and veggie patch. I try to sneak off and read a book but with two small children it is not always possible. And of course, I try as many new wines as possible.
What’s your favorite aspect of South African wine culture?
The diversity. There are so many amazing wines from all the different regions.
Several wines from Natalie’s vineyard are in November’s box of awesomeness. Keep on the lookout for more tasty juice from Natalie and from South Africa!